My Take

Occupy Central issue putting police impartiality under threat

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 4:29am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 6:35am

Hong Kong is a safe place to live, if nothing else. Our police force has kept crime rates relatively low and maintained law and order without an intimidating presence.

Generally seen as an efficient bunch, our police force is one of few in Asia not to have been tainted by major allegations of human rights abuse and violence.

Until recently, the Hong Kong Police Force was seen as apolitical too. But the brouhaha that has been going on between the Occupy Central movement and their equally vehement opponents is now threatening that status.

The plan to disrupt the Central business district over the fight for universal suffrage is a political battle. It is natural that it becomes a heated debate with prominent people taking different sides. But dragging our police force into this emotive issue doesn't bode well for anyone of us.

Unlike other branches of government, the police force needs to display much more regimented discipline. As an individual, an officer enjoys the same rights and freedom as any other civilian. But the job that he or she is sworn into imposes more restrictions than most other occupations. That is what keeps order within the ranks of any efficient police force.

The Police General Orders makes it clear that officers "at all times abstain from any activity which is likely to interfere with the impartial discharge of duties". It also states that they should be seen to be doing so, in order not to create an impression otherwise.

Supporters on both sides of the current political debate are guilty of trying to tear down this basic tenet of our police force.

While one side called on officers to ignore their orders and act according to their consciences, their opponents want the police officers to openly vow their support to them. And now we have senior officers going public with their statements, on the pros and cons of the Occupy Central issue.

This is alarming. Different groups staging rallies for and against police is not unusual. But when police officers openly join the debate on a political issue, they run the risk of being seen as impartial by one side or the other.

It is time for senior police officers in Hong Kong to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Like Caesar's wife, they also have to stay above suspicion.

Alex Lo is on leave